Alcohol dependency prescriptions up three quarters in a decade

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Prescriptions to treat alcohol dependency have risen by 73 per cent in a decade, according to figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). More than 178,000 prescriptions were issued in 2012, compared to just under 168,000 the previous year and fewer than 103,000 in 2003. 

The 2012 figure is the highest number ever recorded by HSCIC, with a ‘net ingredient cost’ of £2.93m, says Statistics on alcohol: England, 2013. The report illustrated ‘the impact of alcohol misuse on hospitals in England’, according to HSCIC.

‘It is extremely important that patients who are dependent on alcohol have access to drugs that can help them recover,’ said Royal College of Physicians advisor on alcohol, Dr Nick Sheron. ‘However, the rise in prescriptions of drugs to treat alcohol dependency is indicative of the huge strain alcohol abuse puts on our society.’

While the report looked at the number of prescriptions being used to treat dependency, the ‘real issue’ was ‘the vast numbers of people who are not getting help for their alcohol addiction’, said Alcohol Concern’s director of campaigns, Emily Robinson. The charity estimated that just one in sixteen people with an alcohol problem received specialist help, as ‘there is just not enough treatment available’, she said. 

Meanwhile, a report from the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome, and Death has concluded that patients with alcohol-related liver disease are being failed by some hospitals. Units: a review of patients who died with alcohol-related liver disease calls for all patients presenting to hospital to be screened for alcohol misuse, and all those presenting to acute services with a history of potentially harmful drinking referred to alcohol support services for ‘a comprehensive physical and mental assessment’, with the results sent to their GP. It also recommends that a consultant-led multidisciplinary alcohol care team be established in every acute hospital.

‘The first thing I found surprising was how many of these extremely ill people were admitted under doctors who claimed no specialist knowledge of their disease, and how many of them were not then seen by an appropriate specialist within a reasonable period,’ said NCEPOD chair Bertie Leigh.

‘As well as raising standards of care for these patients, we need to make sure we can intervene earlier to prevent this shocking loss of young lives,’ said chair of Alcohol Health Alliance UK, Sir Ian Gilmore.

Statistics on alcohol: England, 2013 at www.hscic.gov.uk

Units: www.ncepod.org.uk